In the race to succeed New York City Speaker Sheldon Silver, the New York City delegation is starting to coalesce around Carl Heastie. Given the obvious difficulty in dislodging legislative leaders from Albany, the 47-year-old Heastie requires scrutiny now. Here are some issues I haven’t seen discussed that I would like to see aired before the February 10 Speaker election:
As chair of the Bronx Democratic Party, Heastie makes appointments to the City’s completely dysfunctional Board of Elections. The Board of Election’s problems are legion, as most New York City voters are aware. What has Heastie done to improve the Board of Elections, especially since his choice for executive director in 2010 was fired after two months on the job for ballot tampering? What will he do to improve the State Board of Elections as Speaker?
A broken Board of Elections is an especially big problem in city and state with a voter apathy crisis. Heastie’s Assembly district in the northern Bronx has even lower voter turnout than the rest of the City, with many precincts failing to crack 20% for city or state elections. Will Heastie fight for voting reforms as Speaker?
Heastie’s legislative record is scant. (In fairness, whose wasn’t in Silver’s Assembly?) In 2013, he was called out for carrying a payday lenders’ bill that was slammed by Financial Services Superintendent Ben Lawsky as “roll[ing] back longstanding and effective consumer protections.” (The bill failed.) As Speaker he will be the target of lavish contributions by special interests across the board. How does he intend to silo his fundraising and legislative operations as Speaker?
Many have pointed out that Heastie’s favorite phrase is “no comment.” Does this mean New Yorkers will continue to have no idea what is going on in Albany when he is Speaker? Relatedly, will he empower other Assembly members, especially Committee Chairs, to make statements and hold hearings on their own?
In 2014, Heastie received $20,706 in per-diem expenses, more than any other Assembly member. In recent years his campaign accrued more than $25,000 in unitemized credit card expenditures, among the highest amounts in the Assembly. When asked by a reporter, he replied “I’m not concerned whatsoever.” If he is pledging to reform the Assembly, what are his specific proposals? His fellow members probably aren’t very concerned about these issues, but he owes an explanation to the public.
In 2010, he stayed neutral in the State Senate race between Gustavo Rivera and Pedro Espada, one of the most corrupt members of the legislature in recent years (and that says a lot). As Speaker, one of the most important Democrats in the state, would he support progressive, non-corrupt candidates in primaries?
A 2013 Bronx Times article quoted a series of gripes about his local leadership, from being “literally out of touch” to being steamrolled by aggressive negotiators. (The same gripers, amusingly, complain about how bad he is at coddling big donors.) Can he or any of his supporters speak to examples of his strong leadership on an important issue?
One of his opponents, Cathy Nolan (Queens), has insinuated that the Assembly’s deplorable record on handling sexual harassment under Sheldon Silver calls for a female Speaker to replace him. What will Carl Heastie do for women working in Albany to feel safe from the pervasive and longstanding problem of staffer sexual harassment?
I am not suggesting Heastie is without positive qualities. His work on outer borough taxis has been commendable, he is pro-labor, and recent articles about his Speaker candidacy characterize him as smart and consensus-driven. The next Speaker should probably be from New York City. But this is the public’s only chance to vet him, and I want to learn more.
This article is also not an endorsement of Joe Morelle or Cathy Nolan. I cannot get very excited about anyone who served in a leadership role under Silver, and my greatest hope is that the new talent attracted to a (however slightly) reformed Assembly will result in better leadership down the road.